the Fourth Week of Lent
Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament
ORGANIZATION.—In the NT organization is visible, but in a rudimentary and experimental state. It lacks the rigidity of a fully systematized religion, but it is thereby the better evidence of the glorious vigour of primitive Christianity and its impatience of all that might restrain and hinder its mission. Christ imbued His disciples with an ideal; they accepted His declaration of a Kingdom of God unfettered in plan and method and time; they knew it was to come imperceptibly (‘the wind bloweth where it listeth,’ John 3:8), and to one the Kingdom will appear with the surprise of a treasure found in a field (Matthew 13:44), while to another it will be the pearl gained at the willing cost of all else (Matthew 13:45). In its earthly realization it was to be all-inclusive, a net that should gather of every kind (Matthew 13:47), a field for tares as well as wheat (Matthew 13:30), and this wide vision gave the Apostles zeal to seek sinners as well as saints, Romans as well as Jews, calling none unworthy or unclean (Peter’s dream, Acts 10:28). Yet Jesus knew that organization was the inevitable accompaniment, if not the necessity, of this heavenly Kingdom’s appearance on earth. The sea might be full of fish, but fishers were needful (Luke 5:10); the fields were ripe unto harvest, but labourers must be found for the reaping (Matthew 9:37, Luke 10:2); the broadest community will need the power of exercising discipline, even to the extent of excommunicating if that will make the wrong-doer feel the distance between his present and his best self (Matthew 18:17); the tree must have visible form if it is to shelter men in its branches (Matthew 13:32, Luke 13:19), though its vital force may be a hidden mystery, permeating, as it does, the whole body, as the leaven does the bread (Matthew 13:33, Luke 13:21). Jesus accepted the organization of the past, and made use of it. He referred to the rights of the Sanhedrin (Matthew 5:22), He honoured the Temple-sanctuary and the altar (Matthew 23:16-22), He sent the lepers to the priests to fulfil the Law (Matthew 8:4), He attended the synagogue on the Sabbath ‘as his custom was’ (Luke 4:16). His race had learned in the Captivity and the Dispersion the value of some outward conformity, especially of holy seasons, holy books, and meetings for worship and edification, all aiming at that unity expressed in Acts 4:32 ‘they had one heart and soul.’
His first step was to form a circle of disciples, learners (μαθηταί), those who would differ from the crowd of listeners by their whole-hearted obedience, becoming imitators (μιμηταί), actually doing the things taught after the Teacher’s example (‘if ye abide in my word, then are ye truly my disciples, John 8:31). Much of His teaching is given directly to them: they are distinguished as ‘the’ disciples, or ‘my’ disciples (Matthew 5:1; Matthew 10:1; Matthew 12:1, Mark 8:27, Luke 8:9, John 3:22 etc.); and, though they may ultimately almost form a school of tradition, inheriting certain teachings (Acts 2:42), still they remain learners in the school of Christ, rejecting the title of ‘Rabbi’ (‘teacher,’ ‘master’), and keep their name of ‘disciples’ well into the next generation (Acts 6:2; Acts 9:36; Acts 11:26; Acts 21:4; Acts 21:16). Jesus may call them ‘servants’ (Matthew 10:24), ‘labourers’ (Matthew 9:37, Luke 9:62), ‘the salt of the earth,’ ‘the light of the world’ (Matthew 5:13-14), but the two most distinctive titles He bestows are ‘disciple’ and ‘apostle.’ They are first to learn of Him (Matthew 11:29) the secret of calm inward strength of peace, and then they shall become heralds, messengers, apostles of that peace to the world. The Apostolate has no status except for its missionary purpose, and though the Apostles may have the power to forgive sins (John 20:23), or to exorcize evil spirits (Mark 6:7), or to heal the sick (Matthew 10:8), these are secondary to the work of preaching (Mark 6:12-13).
In founding this first great order in His Church, a whole night of prayer significantly precedes the all-important choice. Next day the Twelve are chosen, and after them Seventy for special and local service, and sent to preach repentance and the Kingdom of God, and to heal (Mark 3:14-15, Matthew 10:1, Luke 9:1, Matthew 11:1 [‘teach and preach,’ as though to indicate the true fervour which will give wings to the doctrine]). They are to lead men to repentance (Mark 6:12), over which the joy of the angels is increased (Luke 15:7; Luke 15:10, ending in the parable of the Prodigal Son). They are to sow the seed of the word of life broadcast, on all soils (Luke 8:4-18); and the thought which will sustain them, even when the seed seems utterly fruitless, is that they are His representatives, and speak with His authority behind them (‘He that heareth you heareth me,’ Matthew 10:40, Luke 10:16; Luke 10:19, John 13:20), for are they not His ‘servants,’ and ‘of his household’? (Matthew 10:25). He points to one, possibly as indicating all, and says that upon him, upon the living rock of human faith and enthusiasm, and not upon the dead heights of Sinai or rock of Zion, will He build. His Church (Matthew 16:18). That Church was to be distinguished by its component members. It should reveal to the world a type of character new in the combination of its qualities and representative of the Society’s ideal. This perfect membership was of the future, and not immediate. Even in the inner circle of His associates Christ had to admit the lapses of the Boanerges or of Peter; they had to learn slowly what it meant to be members of the Church as Christ conceived it. The disciple must bear himself with an unswerving attitude towards the world, being filled with one overmastering idea and service (Matthew 6:24, Luke 16:13), from which he must never look back (Luke 9:62). So complete is to be his obedience and devotion, that the nearest human ties must be broken if they conflict with this vocation (Luke 15:26, Matthew 10:37), and entire renunciation of ‘all that he hath’ become his rule (Luke 14:33), though not with the impulse of a blind fanaticism, but with the calm and measured reasoning of the king going to war, or the builder of a tower (Luke 14:28-33); for calmness, trust in God, absence of fretful anxiety, is the note of the single-minded disciple (Matthew 6:22-34). Hence he will need to make no elaborate apologies for his faith, for God will inspire him when the time for utterance arrives, prophecy being one of the marks of primitive discipleship (Matthew 10:19, Mark 13:11, Luke 12:11). As a soldier, he must look for hardship as his lot, expect no ready welcome everywhere, not bid the fire of heaven fall on those who heed him not (Luke 9:53 f.), but anticipate the burden of the cross (Luke 14:27), submit to be ‘hated of all men for my sake (Matthew 10:22), fearlessly enduring persecution even unto death (v. 28). As being on active service, each member must guard against encumbrances, possessions that, accumulating, hinder. If the rich young man would be a ‘perfect’ disciple, he must part with that which now shares his care and attention (Matthew 19:21, Luke 18:22); the disciple must go forth wasting no thought upon purse, wallet, or clothes, losing no time in mere gossip, ‘salutations by the way’ (Luke 10:4, Mark 6:8, Matthew 10:10). He renounces for the sake of his high mission, not for the boastful and purposeless contempt of an Essene. His aloofness from possessions is consecrated by the lowly simplicity of his spirit, which, already dwelling in the Kingdom of heaven, proclaims it with the artlessness of a little child (Matthew 18:1, Mark 9:34, Luke 9:48), and with the same generous desire to share all his possessions, spiritual as well as temporal, with others (Acts 2:44; Acts 4:32 and the Pauline comment Galatians 2:9). He may find himself a lamb among wolves (Luke 10:3), but he will still show his discipleship by that love of men which first commissioned him (John 13:35). He will learn to see brothers in all workers for good, whatever name they bear, for ‘he that is not against us is for us’ (Mark 9:38, Luke 9:50), and the ‘false prophets’ he will easily discern by their spiritual unfruitfulness, though they call on the Name and work miracles (Matthew 7:22). These signs of the perfect member of the body of Christ will be the gradual outcome of the hidden inward life: no school can make it; It will spring from the inner sincerity of devotion and character, the ‘prayer, alms, fasting’ ‘in secret’ of Matthew 6:1-18.
In founding the Church, whose main purpose should be the reconciliation of man to God, Christ’s chief act of organization was connected with the material that should form the Church,—the primary Apostles, and the larger group of disciples who should foreshadow the ultimate attainment. To perfect them was the chief necessity: to make them the sinning, guiding lights of the world, who in the after-days should do even greater things on earth than He Himself (John 14:12). Hence, perhaps, the little He says about the elements of external religion. He certainly accepted from the past the act of baptism as employed by John (Matthew 21:25 || Mark 11:30, Luke 20:4), and commanded its practice (Matthew 28:19), though not Himself actually baptizing (John 4:2), and clearly impressing one Apostle with the minor importance of baptism (1 Corinthians 1:17) as compared with preaching—the baptism of the Spirit (Matthew 3:11 || Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:26). He accepted the Sabbath of His people, but only subject to the good and needs of man (Matthew 12:8, Mark 2:27, Luke 6:5), so that His followers afterwards felt free to change the day. While He organized prayer to the extent that it should be always in His name (Matthew 18:20, John 14:13; John 15:16; John 16:26), and showed the spirit of that command in the prayer taught to His disciples, He would have it liberated from the formalism and ‘vain repetitions’ of the past and of the heathen (Matthew 6:7). He adopted no systematized body of teaching, or of technical Rabbinic discipline, and no casuistic expounding of Scripture. The one new institution He delivered into the keeping of His followers was in the consecration of that Last Supper destined to be the first of an ageless series, and to be the perpetual symbol of the vital union of the Church and its Lord in things visible and invisible (Matthew 26:26-27, Mark 14:22, Luke 22:19).
If, then, we ask what organization appears to exist on the night of the Crucifixion, we seem to find little that could satisfy the representative ecclesiastical mind. There is throughout Galilee and in Jerusalem a vaguely connected number of believers in Jesus. These know, in more or less detail, the kind of witness that is expected of them before the world, a manifestation that, once realized, would mark them out from the world more plainly than Jew from Roman. They are bound together by this unity of character, which, once attained, will be the presence of the Kingdom of God to each one. Their leaders are eleven of their Lord’s intimates, chosen by Him as teachers and preachers of His word. For outward helps they have the institutions of Judaism, with the baptism of John; the continual remembrance of Christ through praying in His name, and in the prayer He had given; and in the communion of the Lord’s Supper.
But in the Acts and the Epistles we meet with a development of organization arising chiefly out of local necessities. Whilst remaining Jews and attending worship at the Temple (Acts 3:1), the disciples gradually became more conscious of the necessity of something in the nature of a separate community. Meetings of sympathizers, which were also open to any who would come (1 Corinthians 14:23), were planned, and since they could not be held in the synagogues (Acts 6:9), private houses were used (Acts 2:46; Acts 5:42; Acts 18:7, Romans 16:5, 1 Corinthians 16:15, Colossians 4:15). Here were held gatherings for common prayer, for the breaking of bread, for Apostolic teaching and fellowship (Acts 2:42), and for the moral edification of those present. As the first community at Jerusalem increased in numbers, it was found to be necessary to organize a group of helpers for the distribution of charity and the general ministrations (διακονίαι, Romans 12:7, 1 Corinthians 12:5) of almonry (Acts 6:1-6), though for the full ‘work of the ministry’ other gifts and opportunities would enter in (Ephesians 4:12). The Apostles continued to spend themselves in preaching and in prayer; and as they needed assistance in these, they would naturally turn to their ‘helps’ (1 Corinthians 12:28), those ‘men of good report, full of the Spirit and of wisdom’ (Acts 6:3), who would thus, by giving occasional instruction and spiritual guidance, become practising ministers of the word, though their almonry would remain the distinctive duty of these ‘deacons,’ and the key Co their expected morality (1 Timothy 3:8 ff.), especially during the brief period of Apostolic communion (Acts 2:44-45).
The Church still consisted of those called disciples, but slowly it assumed a more visible membership. Baptism became the recognized entrance; baptism ‘into the name of Christ’ (Acts 2:38; Acts 8:16; Acts 10:48; Acts 19:5, Romans 6:3, Galatians 3:27)—in St. Paul’s thought a spiritual cleansing (1 Corinthians 6:11), a mystical burial before the rising of the new life (Colossians 2:12). Each member was to offer sacrifices of praise and thanks (Hebrews 13:15), might teach (James 3:1), and pray with immediate access to God (Ephesians 3:12), and would receive direct illumination (John 1:9, 1 John 2:27). Each was a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), and was to be given up entirely (mentally, physically, and spiritually) to God (Romans 12:1-2), unto a renewed life of righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:24). Their common name steadily underwent changes that marked a more organized body. From ‘disciples,’ the followers and learners of Jesus, they became more conscious of mutual bonds of faith and consecration, so that ἀδελφοί (‘brothers’) better described them (Acts 28:14), since in the fellowship of Christ they had abolished the demarcations of nation, wealth, position, and sex (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11), and had attained to that kinship which is as close as that of mother and brethren (Luke 8:21). Afterwards the religious sense of the brotherhood led them to a new name for the members, οἱ ἅγιοι (‘the saints’), those who are striving after holiness (1 Corinthians 1:2, Romans 1:7). They are already looked upon as a school, a sect, a party (αἵρεσις) by outsiders (Acts 24:5; Acts 24:14; Acts 28:22), so that these first communities of ‘the holy ones’ were being welded together openly. Their government was not sacerdotal, the name ‘priest’ occurring in the NT only when used of the whole society (1 Peter 2:5; 1 Peter 2:9, Revelation 1:6; Revelation 5:10). At their head were still the Apostles, strong by their commission from Christ (Matthew 10:2, Luke 6:13, Mark 3:14, marg. Mark 6:7; Mark 6:30), and increased in numbers through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Paul, Barnabas, Matthias, and others being added (1 Corinthians 9:6, Galatians 1:19, Romans 16:7, 1 Thessalonians 2:6). Their faith and zeal had been renewed by the vision of the risen Lord (Acts 1:21-22, 1 Corinthians 9:1; 1 Corinthians 15:7), and in that faith they had wrought wondrous signs of their Apostolate (2 Corinthians 12:12). But with the growth of the membership of the Church, and the formation of many isolated congregations, superintendents or presidents (πρεσβύτεροι) were needed and appointed, whose duties soon included that of teaching as well as governing the general affairs (1 Timothy 3:2; 1 Timothy 5:17, Titus 1:9). Their equivalent title in Greek cities would seem to have been ‘overseers,’ ‘bishops’ (ἐπίσκοποι, Philippians 1:1, Titus 1:7), and their duties the same, namely, attending to the poor and the sick, helping travelling brethren, exercising discipline towards wrong-doers, and the general administration of the community’s business. So that, although St. Paul mentions many offices in the Church (1 Corinthians 12:28, Ephesians 4:11), two orders only stand out clearly in the NT after the Apostles, that of the presbyters or elders, and that of the deacons. The prophetic office is too nearly allied to the Apostolic to be easily distinguished, though Jesus speaks of it as of something known universally (Matthew 7:22; Matthew 10:41; Matthew 23:34); St. John speaks of the Church as ‘the saints, apostles, and prophets’ (Revelation 18:20; Revelation 18:24); and Acts names some (Acts 11:27; Acts 21:10; Acts 15:32).
In the organization of the Church, doctrine began to be more settled. While Jesus lived, and in His own life could show the blessedness of the Kingdom of God within, men could not go far astray. But afterwards it was necessary to tell of Him, His sayings and doings, His warnings, His ideals, and the purpose of His life. The Apostles would question whether the future would guard these truly, or add to, alter, or take away. So a body of things needful to be taught was collected, and, for the Gentile world, the OT added as an introduction to the comprehension of Christ. To some such collection St. Paul alludes in Romans 6:17, 2 Thessalonians 2:15; but for the knowledge of this the whole NT is our only source to-day. Thence we gather, besides many conflicting modern readings of great doctrines, a general agreement as to the practices of the early Church. We find them still meeting for a while on the Sabbath, the Lord’s day commemorating the Resurrection and only later becoming the rest-day. At their meetings would be celebrated the Love-Feast, sometimes hardly distinguishable from the Lord’s Supper. Here would be the gathering for common prayer, of the form of which we know nothing, the Epistles quoting no regular prayer, referring to no liturgical order, and not even alluding to the Lord’s Prayer. Afterwards the fund for the poorer brethren would be collected (Acts 4:35, Galatians 2:10, Romans 15:26).
So that which comes to be known by the Greek pagan title ἐκκλησία, ‘the Church,’ is gradually organized. She begins in the mind of Christ, free, unlimited, the universal Kingdom of God, with no sacred seasons, sanctuaries, or priesthood. But her Founder knows that her work is among men, and that she must be humanly as well as Divinely developed. So the limitations of organized life are lightly imposed upon her, not to hinder but to increase effectiveness. Still will she cherish the liberty to which the past has brought her (Galatians 3:24), and receive both good and evil into her net (Luke 5:6, 2 Timothy 2:20), for she strives to save all. The outward organization develops, but, while we keep to the pages of the NT, the spirit of the Church is still master of her organization, still looks to the Invisible Church, yet to be, of those made perfect, where the unrighteous have no place (1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Corinthians 15:50, Galatians 5:21, Ephesians 5:5), the assembly of those made perfect through love (James 2:5), the everlasting Kingdom of our Lord (2 Peter 1:11), into which the few have already entered here upon earth—‘Theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 5:3; Matthew 5:10, Luke 6:20). See also Church.
Literature.—For detailed treatment of the Church offices and officers, the following may be consulted out of the abundant literature on these subjects: Hatch, Organiz. of the Early Christian Churches; Lightfoot, Philipp., Dissert. i. (repub. as The Christian Ministry), and Galatians, Excursus on ‘Apostle’; Ramsay, Church in the Roman Empire; Hort, Ecclesia; Weizsäcker, Apost. Age, English translation vol. ii. bk. 5; McGiffert, Christianity in the Apost. Age, 645 ff.; Hausrath, NT Times, vol. ii.; Lindsay, Church and Ministry; artt. ‘Apostle,’ ‘Bishop,’ ‘Baptism’ (esp. pp. 240–242), ‘Church,’ ‘Church Government,’ ‘Deacon,’ ‘Lord’s Supper,’ and ‘Lord’s Day’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible .
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Organization (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​o/organization-2.html. 1906-1918.